Attorney Admits He Stole From Mom & Clients
ST. LOUIS (CN) - A Missouri attorney admitted in Federal Court that he stole from his mother and clients before fleeing the country.
Jeffrey M. Witt, 39, pleaded guilty Friday to bank fraud, aggravated identity theft and mail fraud.
The first two charges stem from a scheme against his mother, in which Witt took out a $100,000 line of credit from Bremen Bank and Trust, secured by a second deed of trust on his mother's house. Witt admitted that he had a client impersonate his mother and forge her signature.
When his mother discovered the truth, Witt allegedly created fake documents stating that the loan was canceled. Prosecutors said Witt immediately deposited $60,000 in his law firm account and used it for personal expenses.
The third charge relates to missing client funds. Witt admitted that he settled some of his clients' cases without their knowledge and forged their signatures so he could deposit their checks. Prosecutors believe Witt took $200,000 to $400,000 from unsuspecting clients between January 2011 and October 2013, though his lawyer told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the amount is less than $200,000.
Witt's schemes crashed in October.
The Missouri Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint against Witt on Oct. 2, claiming he mishandled cases and client funds, lied to judges and clients, missed hearings and failed to tell clients he was an ex-convict and disbarred attorney.
On Oct. 15, 2103, Witt was arrested for drunk driving in Clayton, Mo. A week later, a $1 million judgment in a malpractice case was entered against him and his law office.
Witt disappeared in late October and was arrested in March at Kennedy International Airport on an inbound flight from Istanbul, Turkey.
When he disappeared, Witt had 58 open cases in Missouri courts and four open federal cases, the Post-Dispatch reported. Witt was disbarred in June for professional misconduct.
Witt will be sentenced on Oct. 16.